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Update on the latest in business:

Posted January 11

FINANCIAL MARKETS

Asian stocks mostly higher as dollar strengthens

Asian shares were mostly higher Wednesday on the back of a strengthening dollar and quiet trading ahead of remarks by President-elect Donald Trump.

Japan's benchmark Nikkei 225 rose 0.3 percent. Australia's S&P/ASX 200 added 0.1 percent. South Korea's Kospi was up 1.4 percent. Hong Kong's Hang Seng surged 0.7 percent, but the Shanghai Composite slipped 0.5 percent. Shares in Southeast Asia were mostly higher.

The Nasdaq composite index notched its fourth record-high close in a row, increasing 20 points, or 0.4 percent, to 5,551.82. The S&P 500 ended unchanged at 2,268.90. The Dow slipped 31.85 points, or 0.2 percent, to 19,855.53.

GLOBAL ECONOMY OUTLOOK-WORLD BANK

World Bank forecasting brighter prospects for 2017

The World Bank is forecasting the global economy will accelerate slightly in 2017 after turning in the worst performance last year since the 2008 financial crisis.

The 189-nation lending agency says that the global growth should expand at a 2.7 percent annual rate this year. That's down from the bank's June forecast for 2.8 percent growth this year, but it's better than last year's 2.3 percent growth.

The global economy faced a number of headwinds last year, from economic troubles in China to bouts of financial market turmoil.

World Bank President Jim Yong Kim says, "We are encouraged to see stronger economic prospects on the horizon."

The World Bank forecasts 2.2 percent growth in the United States, up from an estimated 1.6 percent last year.

WELLS FARGO-PAY PLAN

Wells Fargo overhauls pay plan for bank branch employees

Wells Fargo has announced a complete restructuring of how it pays tellers and other bank branch employees, with incentives now tied to how often customers use their accounts. This comes as the company tries to right itself after a scandal over its aggressive sales practices.

The long-anticipated plan has been considered a high priority for CEO Tim Sloan and Mary Mack, the head of Wells Fargo's community bank division — both of whom took those jobs after the scandal emerged. Wells Fargo had already announced in September that it was getting rid of the sales goals that led employees to open up to 2 million unauthorized accounts.

Wells Fargo's 70,000-plus front-line bank employees will no longer be given incentives for how many new accounts they open or for meeting sales goals. They will instead receive part of their overall salary based on how the products they sell are used, with one component also based on independently measured customer service scores for their branch locations.

Accounts that are used frequently, such as those where customers set up direct deposits or use debit cards often, will be a positive factor for an employee's pay. Idle accounts will not, and an account won't be a factor toward incentives until it's been open three months.

VOLKSWAGEN -EMISSIONS SCANDAL

Volkswagen: Draft deal in scandal contains $4.3B in fines

German automaker Volkswagen AG says it's in "advanced talks" with U.S. authorities over a proposed settlement in its diesel emissions scandal.

Under the terms, Volkswagen would pay $4.3 billion in criminal and civil fines. The draft settlement would include the appointment of an independent monitor for three years.

A company statement issued Tuesday said that under the proposal Volkswagen would agree to "a guilty plea" to criminal law provisions.

The draft still needs to be approved by Volkswagen's boards and U.S. courts. Volkswagen said its management board of top executives, which includes CEO Matthias Mueller, and its board of directors would deal with the issue "in the very short term," as soon as Tuesday or Wednesday.

The company has admitted equipping diesel cars with software that turned up emissions controls when the car was being tested, and turned them down during normal driving, improving engine performance but exceeding emission limits.

JAPAN-HONDA RECALL

Honda adds 772,000 vehicles to ongoing air bag recall

Honda Motor Co. says it is recalling 772,000 additional Honda and Acura vehicles in the U.S. for defective front passenger seat air bag inflators made by Japanese supplier Takata Corp.

The vehicles, announced in a recall late Tuesday by Honda in the U.S., are part of an expanded recall of 1.29 million vehicles, including those affected by earlier recalls. There are no recalls being announced in other regions yet, related to the U.S. recall, Tokyo-based Honda said Wednesday.

Takata is at the center of a massive recall of inflators that can explode in a crash, injuring people by sending metal shrapnel into the passenger compartments.

Among the models recalled are the 2005-2006 Acura MDX, 2005-2012 Acura RL, 2008-2012 Honda Accord, 2006-2011 Honda Civic, 2007-2012 Honda Fit and 2010-2012 Honda Insight.

SMALLBIZ-PULSE

Small business optimism soars in NFIB December survey

(UNDATED)— An advocacy group for small businesses says company owners' expectations for the economy surged after the election to the highest level since December 2004.

The National Federation of Independent Business also said Tuesday that its Index of Small Business Optimism, compiled from a survey of 619 members, gained 7.4 points to 105.8 last month.

The number of owners who expect the economy to improve shot up 38 percentage points, while the number who expect their sales to rise increased 20 points. Since the recession, the components of the index have generally moved up only a few points at a time.

The survey was in line with one taken by Wells Fargo & Co. immediately after Republican Donald Trump was elected president, which showed small business owners were feeling more upbeat. It also fit with a report by Thomson Reuters and PayNet that showed small businesses took out more loans and leases in November, a sign that owners felt more comfortable taking on debt.

DRUG PRICES-JOHNSON & JOHNSON

Johnson & Johnson plans next month to disclose average price increases of its prescription drugs, as the industry tries to calm the storm over soaring prices.

The health care giant will divulge its 2016 average increases in list price and net price, or what middlemen such as insurers and distributors pay J&J after discounts and rebates.

Analysts say that will help J&J's image more than patients initially, but could push other drug makers to tame future price increases and be more transparent.

Joaquin Duato (wah-KEEN'), head of the company's prescription drug business, said in an interview Tuesday: "We hope that can create a better understanding of the industry and ... ultimately improve patient access to medicines."

With annual price tags topping $100,000 for many new drugs for cancer and rare diseases, some patients have been unable to afford their medicines. Huge price hikes on old products with little competition, like Mylan's EpiPen emergency allergy injectors, also have left some patients scrambling.

AMAZON TAXES-SOUTH DAKOTA

Daugaard: Amazon to begin collecting taxes in South Dakota

Online retail giant Amazon has agreed to begin collecting state and local sales taxes on purchases in South Dakota. That's according to, Gov. Dennis Daugaard.

It's a victory for state government, which is heavily dependent on sales tax collections. It comes as a lackluster fiscal outlook is forcing officials to address a shortfall this year and tamp down spending increases for the next budget cycle.

House Republican leader Lee Qualm says it's "not going to fix everything, but it's a good start."

The news follows recent moves by Amazon in Utah, Iowa and Nebraska as more states push to collect taxes on Internet purchases. The company's website says purchases shipped to over 30 states are subject to sales taxes.

Daugaard says Amazon will begin voluntarily collecting state and local sales taxes Feb. 1 and will remit them starting in late March.

CLEAN AIR-COLORADO

Colorado's governor won't issue clean-air executive order

Citing backlash from Republicans, Colorado's Democratic governor says he's abandoned the idea of issuing an executive order to seek a one-third cut in greenhouse gas emissions from power plants.

But Gov. John Hickenlooper insisted Tuesday that he hadn't given up on the proposal's goals — or his own commitment to maintaining Colorado's status as a national leader in fighting air pollution.

Hickenlooper, speaking to reporters on the eve of a state legislative session, said: "I think the response — the pushback — from the executive order was so intense that the potential benefits were outweighed by the collateral damage."

The draft order revealed by The Associated Press in August would have directed state agencies to work on ways to cut carbon dioxide emissions from power generators by 35 percent by 2030, compared with 2012 levels.

It said warming temperatures and violent weather related to global warming threaten Colorado's economy, including agriculture, skiing and summer recreation.

TRIBES-OIL DRILLING

US cancels final 2 energy leases in area sacred to tribes

U.S. officials have announced the cancellation of the final two oil and gas leases in a wilderness area bordering Glacier National Park that's sacred to the Blackfoot tribes of Montana and Canada. The move came more than three decades after the tribes said the leases were illegally sold.

Lease owners in Nebraska and Texas were notified of the cancellations in a letter from Deputy Interior Secretary Michael Conner and offered refunds of about $30,000 each.

The move is subject to a potential court challenge. A lawsuit against another lease cancellation in the area last year is pending before U.S. District Judge Richard Leon in Washington, D.C.

The undeveloped leases were issued in the 1980s in the Badger Two-Medicine area, the site of the creation story for Montana's Blackfeet Nation and the Blackfoot tribes of Canada. Tribal members had argued that the leases were sold improperly and without due consideration of the area's cultural significance.

SOUTHWEST AIRLINES-EXECUTIVES

Southwest makes executive changes with an eye on succession

Southwest Airlines Co. is making changes in the front office that could offer clues as to who will eventually succeed Gary Kelly as CEO and chairman.

The company said Tuesday that it promoted 55-year-old Thomas Nealon to president, a title that Kelly had held. Nealon is a former Southwest chief information officer and board member who rejoined the company a year ago in a strategy job.

Nealon and 55-year-old Michael Van de Ven and the airline's chief operating officer will both report to Kelly, who has led the Dallas-based airline for 12 years. Kelly described the arrangement as a three-headed office of the CEO.

Southwest does not have a mandatory retirement age for executives. The 61-year-old Kelly said he plans to stay on for several more years. But, he added, "I'm not getting any younger" and said he didn't want to leave the company unprepared to pick a successor.

While Kelly repeatedly invoked succession in announcing the changes, he said other executives could still emerge as potential leaders.

OUTDOOR RETAILER SHOW

Black Diamond founder: Outdoor retail show should leave Utah

A powerful outdoor recreation industry executive says the world's largest outdoor retail show going on this week in Salt Lake City should leave Utah if the state's top political leaders continue what he calls an assault on public lands.

Black Diamond Equipment founder Peter Metcalf said Tuesday that keeping the show in Utah makes the industry complicit in supporting rhetoric and strategies that don't align with its values. Metcalf sharply criticized Gov. Gary Herbert and others for strategizing to reverse President Barack Obama's recent designation of the Bears Ears National Monument in southern Utah.

His comments came on the opening day of the Outdoor Retailer's winter show, which brings about 22,000 people for a business-to-business expo that allows store owners to meet with manufacturers and preview products that will reach the retail market soon. The twice-yearly show gives Utah an estimated $45 million in annual direct spending.

PUERTO RICO-ECONOMIC CRISIS

Puerto Ricans to see lower power bills amid economic crisis

Puerto Ricans overwhelmed by chronically high power bills amid a decade-long economic crisis will soon see some relief.

The island's energy commission on Tuesday ordered the public power company to lower its rates. Officials said customers will see a change by March or April, and they will be credited for paying a provisional rate increase that began last year.

Residential customers were bracing for a 23 percent increase over current rates this year and businesses faced an up to 24 percent increase as the heavily indebted power company sought to generate more revenue to pay for new bonds and infrastructure projects.

The agency has long been accused of corruption and is $9 billion in debt. It is finalizing a restructuring deal after two years of negotiations with creditors.

NEW HAMPSHIRE-RIGHT TO WORK

Public, lawmakers testify on New Hampshire bill targeting labor unions

Hundreds of people have flocked to Concord, New Hampshire, to testify, cheer and boo as they debated the merits of right-to-work legislation.

Bob Jones, a public safety union president, says "there is no evidence this legislation would improve work opportunities, job security or employment for hard-working Granite Staters."

About 120 people signed up to testify before the Senate Commerce Committee. The legislation would bar both public and private unions from requiring employees to contribute dues, fees or any other type of payment, although union members could voluntarily pay dues. If the law passes, any collective bargaining agreement that requires payments would become null and void.

Legislators and business leaders who testified in support of the bill said it would give workers more freedom and entice businesses to New Hampshire. But union representatives and members said a right-to-work law would weaken collective bargaining power and threaten worker protections and wages.

PORT AUTHORITY-SEC PROBE

Port Authority paying penalty in Pulaski Skyway case

The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey will pay $400,000 to settle charges that it misled investors by failing to disclose disputes within the agency about the legality of a scheme to use the authority's money to repair New Jersey roads. That's according to a settlement that was announced Tuesday.

The Securities and Exchange Commission says the Port Authority sold $2.3 billion worth of bonds to investors without revealing internal discussions about whether certain projects were legal to pursue. The projects included New Jersey's iconic Pulaski Skyway, which is featured in the opening of the HBO drama, "The Sopranos."

To justify spending its money to repair the skyway, port attorneys dubbed it an access road to the authority-owned Lincoln Tunnel, some eight miles away. That decision was outlined by an authority lawyer in a 2011 memo after Republican Gov. Chris Christie's appointees at the Port Authority pushed for repairing the skyway and other state-owned roads.

PRINCE ESTATE-MERCHANDISING DEAL

Prince estate signs merchandising deal with UMG's Bravado

Prince's estate has signed a merchandising deal naming Universal Music Group's Bravado unit as its exclusive branding and licensing partner worldwide.

Tuesday's announcement says Bravado will work with the estate to manage retail and licensing endeavors for Prince's brand.

Bravado CEO Mat Vlasic says it will ensure that Prince "continues to thrill fans and impact culture around the world."

Prince's entertainment assets are being managed under court orders by industry experts Charles Koppelman and L. Londell McMillan, who say the deal will support Prince's legacy and give fans new opportunities to connect with him.

Prince died of an accidental painkiller overdose in April. A Minnesota judge is expected to declare his siblings heirs to his estate, which court filings suggest is worth about $200 million.

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